For decades, the UK and the European Union have strongly supported the use of diesel engines in passenger cars. It all started with the oil embargoes of the OPEC countries in the 70’s. Suddenly, fuel economy became an important factor as gasoline prices soared into the stratosphere.
In later years, as the world became acquainted with the concept of “greenhouse gases” and how they could negatively affect the environment, governments again showered diesel fuel and diesel cars with significant tax advantages. especially lower taxes on diesel fuel in the UK and Europe. As a result, the vast majority of Europeans looking for basic transportation have come to rely on diesel as the best way to stretch their transportation dollars.
But lately, attitudes toward Dr. Diesel’s miracle engine have taken a significant turn. While diesels have lower CO2 emissions than gasoline engines, they also emit 4 times as many oxides of nitrogen and 22 times more particulates. In France, where almost 80% of all the vehicles are diesels, Prime Minister Manual Valls suddenly announced in November, “In France, we have long favored the diesel engine. This was a mistake, and we will progressively undo that, intelligently and pragmatically.” France will begin by raising the excise tax on diesel fuel, making it closer in price to that of gasoline. It will also offer French citizens a $13,500 bonus if they give up their diesel car for an electric vehicle.
Now, the anti-diesel sentiment has jumped the English Channel to land in Britain. This week, Environment Minister Barry Gardiner of the UK’s liberal Labour Party told Channel 4’s Dispatches his government’s decision to base the country’s car taxes on CO2 output was “the wrong decision,” because it had the unintended effect of pushing consumers into diesels. “Certainly the impact of that decision has been a massive problem for public health in this country,” Gardiner said.
Will the anti-diesel animus cross The Pond and infect American thinking, too? Given the herd mentality that infects most politicians, that’s certainly a distinct possibility.
Image: Diesel pump via Shutterstock